Book Review: All This Talk of Love

all talkThank you to Net Galley for advancing a copy of All This Talk of Love. Unfortunately it arrived as an (unreadable) PDF and was a book I even scheduled in my Reading Schedule to read. It was the last book in the schedule! Alas, rather than fight through teeny tiny type of a PDF I waited for it to come to the library. I’m very glad I waited and read it, as it was certainly worth it.

All This Talk of Love is a lovely piece of fiction about families. It beautifully depicts each member as their individual selves and as part of their larger close-knit family. The Grasso family is headed by Antonio and Maddalena Grasso. They had left Italy as a very young married couple and immigrated to America over 50 years prior. They have three children, Prima (the Italian Princess), Tony, (their now deceased son) and Frankie (the son conceived years later and out of grief).

None of the children, or their children (Prima’s), have been back to the Old Country. As a surprise Prima has purchased tickets for the entire Grasso family to bring them back to Santa Cecilia one summer. It is this encompassing act that we read each of their individual stories and their place in the Grasso clan. This, and the shadow of grief that hovers over all from their son, brother and uncle that killed himself when he was just 15 years old.

Maddalena; the beautiful and stunning, still, vibrant matriarch of the Grasso clan. She has absolutely no intention of returning to Santa Cecilia ever. What is there is only the country of when she was young and beautiful. The place where her mother was still alive, her sister was not suffering from Alzheimer’s and where she loved another man. Going back would only destroy those memories. That is what they are, that is what they will remain. Maddalena however, is beginning to show disturbing signs of this horrible and hereditary disease that will soon steal her mind.

She’s never been back to Santa Cecilia, not even for a visit, not once in the fifty years since Antonio married her and brought her to America, and she’s not about to start now. Unlike him, she still has her people in that village. She remembers them how they were when she left them in 1946. Now most of them are bones in the ground behind the church…She has only one brother left, Claudio and one sister, Carolina, but she hasn’t spoken to them in twenty years. She won’t see them old and sick, not after working so hard, every day, to keep them young and beautiful and full of life in her mind. She won’t let that happen. ….Santa Cecilia was the one place on earth where she was young. What belongs to her and her alone is that village during those nineteen years, her memories of it, of who she might have been…Go back now, to see it all changed, and that, too, will be taken away.

Antonio: the patriarch of the Grasso’s. He brought Maddalena over and started a family restaurant with the name from back in the Old Country so that she would always have that place where they met and he fell in love. He aches, longs, yearns, dreams of returning to the Old Country. He wants to go back and live what he feels are his final moments of this long and love-filled life he’s lead. Antonio believes that if he were to go back there, the deep, deep regret and loss and grief over losing his son, Tony, will disappear there. For Tony never set foot in Italy and should Antonio go back he would finally be able to let go of his grief, and the secret he’s kept about Tony’s death and his reasons for taking his own life, from everyone.

Take me to Santa Cecilia, where I belong. I can count on one hand the years we have left together.

He is the only person alive who knew the secret of Tony’s heart. He keeps it closer than any he’s ever known. It’s like a heavy stone in his pocket, one he takes out day after day, turns over, rubs with his thumb, as if it’s beautiful and precious, when – he almost has to remind himself – it was the one bit of ugliness in Tony, and it proved powerful enough to kill him.

Prima: she is the Italian Princess, the spoiled rich girl that married the Irish man. She is approaching middle-age in despair and is not looking forward to living in an empty-nest when her four sons move on. She tries very hard to be the “cool mom” and boasts her job is to raise four sons and care for their large home and family. She wishes with everything to bring all of the Grasso clan together for this trip to Santa Cecilia so that they are all together, delaying the inevitable for just a little longer. She is the control-freak that needs to arrange for everything in order to hide her desperate loneliness.

Frankie: is the wandering intellectual of the family. He knows he lives in the shadow of Tony yet holds his mother in the highest esteem, adoration and love. Never one night goes without their 11:01 p.m. phone conversation following the viewing of their favourite soap opera. Frankie is pursuing his PhD and seems to flounder a bit here and there, in love, in his dissertation, in his place in the family. After finally ditching the dead-end love affair with his married advisor and finding a new advisor as well, Frankie meets another girl and returns home to find the focus he so needs to get himself on track.

And then, just as they have finally convinced Maddalena to make the trip to Italy, all done in hopes it helps to reverse the quickly advancing destruction of her mind, tradegy strikes the Grasso family again. This greatly delays their trip by a number of years, but the trip is finally made in the end. Unfortunately, it does not hold the magic or promise that was so hoped for before. Maddelena is all but lost in her mind now and no longer recognizes her family. It is these incredibly touching moments that the book ends.

All This Talk of Love is a wonderful, wonderful story about family and is filled with love, loss, longing, regret, grief and secrets. I’m really glad I kept it on my planned reading list/schedule. I’m glad I did not forget about reading it or returning it to the library before actually reading. It’s really a beautiful story, filled with many poignant and touching moments, all of which are meant to touch upon what it is to be a part of a family in all its glory, madness, sadness and frustration, despair and love, its great, unyielding love.

Review: The Detour

I’ll start right off by saying I’m only giving it the 2.5 star rating. 2.5 stars means “meh, take it or leave it.” And that is so bizarre that I’m giving it this rating, when every single rating on Goodreads is vastly, vastly different from mine. But I can honestly say and from the very beginning, it never grabbed a strong hold on me. There were just far too many unnecessary details throughout that didn’t allow for more than just a passing interest in finishing the story.  The climatical ending holds beautiful writing, but by this point, it was too late for me.

Ernst Vogler, the young German sent on a mission to bring back an important Roman sculpture to the Furher, or Der Kunstsammler (the Collector). His story is told through two time periods, one 5 years following WWII and the other during the week-long time period in 1938. In 1938 he is given the duty to travel to Italy to collect a sculpture and see its safe transfer back to Germany.

Synopsis (from Goodreads): Ernst Vogler is twenty-six years old in 1938 when he is sent to Rome by his employer—the Third Reich’s Sonderprojekte, which is collecting the great art of Europe and bringing it to Germany for the Führer. Vogler is to collect a famous Classical Roman marble statue, The Discus Thrower, and get it to the German border, where it will be turned over to Gestapo custody. It is a simple, three-day job.
Things start to go wrong almost immediately. The Italian twin brothers who have been hired to escort Vogler to the border seem to have priorities besides the task at hand—wild romances, perhaps even criminal jobs on the side—and Vogler quickly loses control of the assignment. The twins set off on a dangerous detour and Vogler realizes he will be lucky to escape this venture with his life, let alone his job. With nothing left to lose, the young German gives himself up to the Italian adventure, to the surprising love and inevitable losses along the way.

Ernst is described as the ideal German, not questioning, paying strict attention to detail, efficient and is supportive of this growing attention to the preservation or creation of a strong and united Germany. Or rather, this is how Ernst feels best describes himself and how others see him. Actually, I think Ernst was chosen for this duty because of his sheep-like and non-questioning personality. This is what allows those in Italy (the Germans actually) to pull the old “bait and switch” on Hitler and send Ernst on his way with only a copy of the statue (The Roman Discus Thrower).

What follows is a lengthy and drawn out journey, filled with many unnecessary details that only continued to bore me. Oh it had such potential and I really wanted to love it so, but it just kept falling flat for me.

Ernst and his two Italian companions are to get the statue to the German border in 3 days. Unfortunately the mishaps that follow never really amount to anything that would create fierce tension or intense worry that you might imagine would come from this type of story. Pulling a switcheroo on Hitler? Being chased by people that are supposed to support Hitler in his quest for collecting Europe’s artistic treasures? Unfortunately, in my opinion it just never gains that momentum or intensity you imagine one would feel reading this story so that once you reach the climax, you’re interest has waned too much to be drawn back to it.

It had such potential, what an exciting premise, but I still feel it was too bogged down with unnecessary, meandering descriptions that took so much away from this story. I have not really read about this aspect of Hitler’s reign….the looting of Europe’s finest works of art for the Nazi cultural project, and Ernst’s job following the war of repatriating these great works back to the countries from which they were stolen. But the beautiful story and writing happens too late for me to warrant a higher rating. That makes me sad, but throughout I really didn’t feel overwhelming love, until the final two chapters.

..vast effort, the most important job of my life, far more important than the job I’d been given in 1938. It was a chance for me to redeem myself, the first time I even dared to think about what life could become again.  Ernst Volger